WASHINGTON, July 18, 2014 – EPA today issued a proposal to protect Bristol Bay in Alaska from development of large scale copper and gold mine. The agency says the operation, backed by Northern Dynasty Minerals and the Pebble Limited Partnership, would threaten one of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries.
EPA said it plans to use its authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) to prohibit the Army Corps of Engineers from issuing a permit that would allow the mine operators to place dredged or fill material into bodies of water near the mine. The development can’t continue without such a permit.
The agency said that based on the mine proponent’s prospectus, the planned Pebble development would be one of the biggest open-pit mines in the world, creating a hole nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon. Mine waste, including tailings and waste rock, would fill a major football stadium up to 3,900 times, EPA said.
“The science is clear that mining the Pebble deposit would cause irreversible damage to one of the world’s last intact salmon ecosystems,” said Dennis McLerran, administrator for EPA Region 10, which includes Alaska. “We are doing this now because we’ve heard from concerned tribes, the fishing industry, Alaskans and many others who have lived and worked for more than a decade under the uncertainty posed by this potentially destructive mine. Simply put, this is a uniquely large mine in a uniquely important place.”
EPA has used its 404(c) authority sparingly, beginning the process in 30 instances and completing it only 13 times in the CWA’s 42-year history. The agency said its use of the authority has typically involved major projects with significant impacts on some of America’s most ecologically valuable waters.
EPA Region 10 is seeking public comment on its proposal from July 21 to Sept. 19 and will hold public meetings in Alaska from Aug. 12-15.
In May, Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) filed a lawsuit in federal court in Alaska seeking an injunction to stop EPA’s plan to “preemptively veto” the mining operation. It argued that the company had not yet even filed a permit application and that the agency was exceeding its authority under the CWA.
Tom Collier, PLP president and CEO, said at that time that the EPA action was an example of “massive federal overreach.”
“If EPA ultimately vetoes Pebble before a development plan is proposed or evaluated through the comprehensive federal and state permitting processes, the precedent established will have significant long-term effects on business investment in this state and throughout the country,” he said.
According to a PLP study, the project would create almost 16,000 jobs, directly or indirectly, and generate about $18 billion in local, state and federal taxes.
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